“I truly enjoy creating venues,” Seth Hurwitz, chairman of I.M.P. Productions, which owns the famed 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., operates Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia and promotes concerts at various venues throughout the Baltimore-D.C. areas, told the JT.
To those who know Hurwitz, it’s no wonder that his company name is a humble tip of the hat to the 1963 pop song “It’s My Party.” Though Hurwitz takes his work promoting concerts by such legends as Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, Paul Simon, Justin Timberlake and Adele seriously, the music venue mogul said the game still always has to be about having a good time.
“A lot of people, when they talk about the music and show businesses, they forget this is about fun,” Hurwitz said.
To spread the vibe, Hurwitz and his I.M.P. have announced the name of their latest venture, a new venue in Southwest Washington called The Anthem, which is being built out as I.M.P. continues renovating Merriweather.
The Anthem will be a $60 million concert venue opening on Oct. 12 as part of The Wharf, itself opening on Oct. 12 as a $2 billion mixed-use waterfront development situated on the Washington Channel and adjacent to the National Mall.
The flexible capacity of The Anthem will vary from 2,500 to 6,000 by employing various configurations via a movable stage and backdrop.
“People ask me all the time about expanding or doing the 9:30 Club somewhere else, but I have no interest in doing that,” Hurwitz said. “There wasn’t The Anthem yet, though, so we’re doing that.”
Hurwitz went on to clarify that as much delight as he takes in creating new venues, he has little to no interest in doing the same thing twice.
“What was missing was the ‘in-between,’” Hurwitz said. “We’ve had to rent other people’s venues like the Towson Center and school gyms.”
Meanwhile, renovations continue at Merriweather, which has been a Maryland music staple since the late 1960s and was ranked as Rolling Stone’s fourth-best amphitheater in the country in 2013.
It was in June 2014, that Hurwitz — along with Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and musician Jack Johnson — announced their $19 million plan for renovating Merriweather, with a projection of reaching completion over the next five off-seasons.
Such renovations include new seating, new restrooms and concessions, new artist dressing rooms, a raised main roof and environmental improvements as well as a new stage.
“We’re working on it,” Hurwitz said. “A lot of it [the renovations] is backstage. Although you’ll be able to see some interesting things by the stage too.”
Hurwitz revealed that such “interesting things” patrons will be able to see for themselves once work is finished by the end of April or early May, is a new lighting system by the stage that will be timed with the music being played rather like a large sound meter.
“We’re trying to make Merriweather the most enjoyable, fun experience we can for the bands so they will want to fight to play there,” Hurwitz said.
But it’s not just about the bands, of course. Ensuring the audience is having the best experience imaginable is also very important to Hurwitz, something he imparts to his staff.
“If they’re not happy and don’t have smiles on their faces, we can’t expect [concert goers] to have smiles on their faces,” Hurwitz said. “But it can’t be fake. You can’t just say, ‘Have a smile, goddamn it!’ It has to actually be fun on both sides of the stage. This is the core of the business.”
“So when I walk around Merriweather, I’m ready to have some fun,” Hurwitz concluded. “Don’t forget: if the audience isn’t having fun and the bands aren’t having fun, something is wrong. But it has to start at the top.”
Merriweather’s Rotating Stage:
(Courtesy of I.M.P.)